The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

I started this book on Friday. I finished it today. (Granted, I had one of those lay on the couch and read days, but still. 4 days. It feels like record time for me, lately.)

Firstly, let's take a moment and remember how much I loved Flinn's first book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. Remember? Good.

This book opens with this quote:

"You teach best what you most need to learn." - Richard Bach.

That's the prologue, and then part one opens with:

"For most people, the only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." - Julia Child

So there you go. This is Kathleen (I feel after two memoirs, I can call her by her first name) giving 9 volunteers permission to have a what-the-hell attitude in the kitchen.  You read that right: volunteers. She asked people to let her teach them basic cooking skills. Things that I feel like I know, but would still pay someone to help me hone. And Kathleen is a Cordon Bleu trained chef. Teaching these women for free. If I hadn't learned so much reading the book, I'd be much more jealous. As it is, let's just say my list of Seattle Food Writers To Stalk keeps growing and growing and growing.

She starts off with something that almost everyone lacks: knife skills. Then she moves on to some taste testing (iodized salt DOES taste like chemicals!) and approaching a whole chicken, beef (not the whole cow), soups, stocks, what to do with leftovers, and tips for planning your menu so you can shop more efficiently.

Kathleen has tirelessly researched the details she uses to motivate her volunteers and readers: Americans waste 30% of the food they bring into their homes, for example. She packs in recipes, more recipes, a hearty bibliography, and recommended reading - all of which I am grateful for (and you will be, too.)

Her volunteers all have the same thing in common: they are so removed from the process of cooing and nourishing themselves that they admit to being scared to cook. Scared of the knives, scared of chicken, scared of fish, scared of failing. They represent a lot of people out there, I think. Although they are all women, they range in age and income from early twenties to mid-sixties, from food stamps to an almost $1000 a month budget.

To help with these classes, she brings in experts: fellow chefs, nutritionists, a former-chef, a Top Chef cheftestant - they add much needed color and I found myself learning things I'd never even knew I didn't know. I also will be bringing home any bones from restaurant meals. Particularly steak bones. Hello, beef stock!

So, like I said, I know my way around a kitchen, but this book wasn't written for me, necessarily. It was written for people who have a go-to meal and then a stack of take-out menus or frozen dinners. It's a wake-up call to take back our kitchens and our mealtimes...if only to regain control of our sodium intake.

I tagged this inspirational because, well, it is, but also because I have been inspired: 2012 is the year I conquer yeast. That's what I'm scared of. Yeast. We have a fair-weather relationship and really, I just want to make it my bitch. You hear that, yeast? I'm coming for you!

Kathleen Flinn's youtube channel can be found here. It's got some helpful video tutorials in it, well worth watching. Enjoy!

(Trailer) The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

From the lady who brought us this.

I'm two chapters in. So far: Two thumbs WAY up.


The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

So you'll notice that I tagged this with "instructional" - it's not a how-to manual, per-se, but for those of us with a "how to kill someone and what to do with the body" shelf in their library, this is invaluable.

It's just about as grisly as you'd expect it to be, especially considering every word of it is true. When you stack that up against something like American Psycho (where not even Brett Eason Ellis is sure he's actually torturing those women*,) this proves that truth is often much stranger, much more shudder-inducing than fiction.

This is broken up by year/poison - it starts in 1915 and ends in 1935 - spanning prohibition, alcohols feature heavily in the text. As do things like Arsenic (the "inheritence drug") and Radium (have some Radithor for youthful vitality!) and Carbon Monoxide (still a threat.)  Blum is unapologetically on the side of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler - the team who created modern forensics in America. They were inexhaustible and determined and enthusiastic about their cause. For the entire span of Prohibition, for example, these two - a doctor and a toxicologist - were the most vocal opponents of the Noble Experiment  due to the fact that it killed more people than it saved. This crusade is broken up by cases that were investigated by the duo: from industrial poisonings to crimes of passion.

Blum made even the chemical compounds enrapturing and I found myself reading "just one more page" despite the fact that I have a list of things to-do that's as long as my arm. I also found myself thinking that Bones and/or House and/or the new Sherlock on BBC need to do a story arc with a serial poisoner - one who's always poisoning, but changing the poison. It makes me dizzy just to think of it.

A note for those who find themselves squeamish about such things: Blum does not pull punches. If you ever wanted graphic (while remaining extremely clinical) details about what things like Arsenic and Carbon Monoxide do to you, this is your book. Just remember that some things can't be unread. You should get over your squeamishness, though. This book is THAT GOOD.

Book trailer:

* I heard that on a Fresh Air interview a million years ago, and I cannot for the life of me find it. Anyone have a source? Or did I hallucinate that?


Wildwood by Colin Melor and Carson Ellis

Full Disclosure - I knew I was going to read this book the minute I heard it was coming out. Purely because it was written by the man who brought us this:

Meloy is a smart man. Evidenced here, when he appeared on Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me.

So, given that, let's talk about the book. It's sheer genius. 

A basic overview: 12 year old Prue is in the park with her 1yr old brother when he is stolen by a murder of crows and taken into the Impassable Wilderness. A school mate named Curtis follows her into the woods to help her save Mac and hijinks ensue. Because of course the Impassable Wildnerness is a magic wood - based on Forest Park in Oregon - that is actually called Wildwood and is inhabited by people and animals...all of whom speak and farm and have lives.

It's got a big flavor of Narnia, but with weaponry and a body count.

Let's talk about the illustrations for a moment - they are delicious. They add to the flavor and aid in the visualization of this vast new world he's created. (I do wonder what they do to the feedback loop, though....)

It was one of those books where I kept thinking "well, I'm just going to have to push through and finish this tonight...the sweet agony of waiting to find out what happens is KILLING ME!" and then I would realize there were well over a hundred pages left and I would sigh and put it off. But mark my words - if I didn't have a toddler to take care of, I wouldn't have put this book down. 

So you should give them a listen (if you're not already a fan) and give his appearance on Wait, Wait a listen...and then block out a chunk of time, get cozy, and read this book.

Trust me.

(ps - it's called Book One of the Wildwood Chronicles. More to come...?! Be still my heart!)


Pirate King by Laurie R King

This is the promo poster, isn't it divine?

I bought this bad boy in hardcover the week it came out. I'm a library girl, so the fact that I just went and bought it without reading it is high praise, indeed. 

It is the latest installment of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and I enjoyed every second. King has taken a slight turn with this one - it's almost a comedy. It's certainly humorous (even when the suspense is ratcheting up, the situation is still amusing) and still a page-turner.

I suspect that King has introduced a character we'll see again - one of the actresses in the movie Russell has sought employment with gets a lot of play.

Yes, you read that right. The premise here is that an assistant to a rather popular production company has gone missing and Scotland Yard (via Holmes) would like Russell to investigate - under cover, of course. So she buy fashionable shoes and boards a steamer to suss out what's happened. And it's not quite a comedy of errors from then on out. More like...a comedy of coincidences? A comedy of ironies? At any rate - it's many chapters of suspenseful fun.

This series just keeps getting better and better - after the last pair of novels (one ending with a cliff-hanger and the next wrapping up that adventure) it was nice to read a lighter tale about my favorite sleuthing duo.

The biggest downside that I could see arrived on the very last printed page of the book - the part where it talk about the author. I'll just quote it for you: "She lives in Northern California, where she is at work on her next novel of historical suspense, Garment of Shadows, to be published by Bantam in 2013." I will be quite miffed if this bruhaha about the Mayan calendar winds up being correct and I don't get a chance to read Garment of Shadows. I'll just have to stalk King in the afterlife to find out what happens.

If you haven't read this series, do start at the beginning, with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. It helps to read in order of publication.


Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda

This was amazing. You absolutely have to read the first one first - it's referred to often in this book, part of Billi's personal growth depends on events in the first book. It's nicely done, but you may find yourself thinking "what the heck...?" if you haven't read Devil's Kiss.

Consider yourself warned.

I love this series (so glad it's a series!) Chadda makes Joss Whedon look like he's telling campfire stories to ten year olds, if that makes sense. Don't get me wrong - I drink the Joss Whedon Kool-Aide and watch anything that bears his name. But his darkest moments are nothing compared to what Sarwat Chadda throws at Billi.

To wit: Billi is the only female member of the (still active, if lacking in funds and numbers) Knights Templar. To add a twist that keeps things interesting - in Chadda's version, after the Pope turned his back on the Templars, they turned to fighting the beasts of hell: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, fallen angels, etc. Chadda's done his research - a tiny bit of googling adds credence to his plot lines and characters.

And then his methods of destruction are just this side of "never gonna happen" to keep me up at night.

So it's a great read for this time of year, but reading at Halloween might be a little cliche'd.

I fully recognize that this genre isn't for everything, but if it teenage girls fighting the supernatural is your cup of tea, you'd be remiss not to give these a shot. Trust me.

Book trailer for the first book:


One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Read by Emily Gray

I love this series. I know that people don't get it, or get bored halfway through (I don't recommend reading them all together, you will suffer brain fatigue.) But I have read them as they've been released and they remain new and fresh and delightful to me.

This one is different, as it's told from the perspective of the Written Thursday. Of course all of the prior books were written by ghostwriters and there was a sex-and-violence Thursday playing the part before the current Written Thursday, whose job is to be "more true to the way Thursday wants it."

If that didn't make any sense to you - you should go and read The Eyre Affair. Go ahead. I can wait.

So, now that you've read that, and this all makes sense to you...the 6th installment of the Thursday Next series is set mainly in the Book World. It undergoes a remaking at the beginning, to make the landscape a little less clunky, and we get to see what happens with the characters when the book isn't being read. A lot, actually.

Since I was listening to this in the car at the same time I've been reading other books, it is always in the back of my head and it is effecting the way I read. I feel that, somewhere in another dimension is a person who is acting out what I am reading. A full cast, actually. And with the FeedBack Loop...well, let's just say I'm paying more attention to what I read these days.

One of the biggest perks here is that Fforde is clearly a book lover. A literary fan. He would wipe the table and floors with all of us at Trivial Pursuit: Book Lovers Edition. His books are rife with references to scenes, characters, and situations from the classics - all of which inform the narrative.

A bit of a spoiler: in this book, we get to witness a Written character going into the Outland (our Real World) for the first time. It's a fairly unique experience, and there are quite a lot of math jokes. (Only, they're British, so they say "maths.")

All in all, a fun read. I do very much enjoy this series (although I haven't been able to get into anything else he's written) and will likely revisit it someday...the details of the early books are already a little hazy...

Two thumbs way up. If surrealist speculation/speculative fantasy are your thing, you can't go wrong.


Artemis Fowl: the Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

I love these books. I love that they're written for teenage boys. I love that he took the idea of fairies living "in the hills" literally and I love that he made them so technologically advanced that Steve Jobs would be speechless were he to encounter them.

I love that Artemis is basically a sociopath. I love that he's a genius. I love that Butler has tunnel vision and questionable morals. I love that Holly is the toughest member of the bunch and that the tech genius (Q, if you will) is a centaur with a potty mouth.

I love that the world is always in peril and that it's mostly Artemis's doing. Love. Love. Love. Love this series.

This is the first that I've listened to, and I very much enjoyed it. Hearing it with the accents really does make all the difference.

Now, if they'd just make these into movies already!

UPDATE::: hello, movie! http://www.artemis-fowl.com/movie_1.php

Click: One Novel Ten Authors

I missed this when it was released, but that's ok. I still enjoyed it. An interesting approach: a novel written by ten authors...some of whom I read just because their name is on it (Colfer, Hornby.) It switched points of view, but it didn't bother me at all. It also jumps in time a bit, which was also not bothersome.

It opens with the death of a grandfather, and his grieving grandchildren. Being that he was a prize-winning photojournalist, it only makes sense that his photos would help structure the narrative. Fortunately, this potentially hokey plot device was not hokey at all, and felt less like a device than a signpost, guiding us through history and geography smoothly. The narrative spans a full century - sometimes after World War Two until sometime after 2030...it's full of interesting characters and a good deal of "what if...?" Which we all know I like.

All in all, I enjoyed it enough that I'll be gifting it to some people in the future...and paying full price, as all proceeds go to Amnesty International.


Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander

This is the fourth book in this series, but only the second that I have read. The previous one, Tears of Pearl, I read and enjoyed so much that when I saw this on the shelf at the library I snatched it up and dragged my son (and all our stuff) back to the checkout so I could take it home and read it. It took me a matter of hours to devour it (spread in 20-30 minute increments over a few days - I have a toddler) and I'm considering doing something I almost never do: reading the series out of order. (The other series that I've discovered in the middle and then gone back to the start being The Home Repair is Homicide series - mostly if I discover it's a series I either just pick it up in the middle or hold off on the latest installment until I've caught up.) 

One of the blurbs on the back states that Alexander is perfect for fans of Laurie R. King and I agree - she's following the same vein: real people interspersed with her creations, a capable female protagonist who was very "modern" for the times she's living in...but by my math King is writing a full 40-50 years after Lady Emily's adventures. Still, the heroines are intelligent and scrappy (sorry, they are) and constantly proving people wrong by being stronger than their gender suggests. 

This installment takes place in France, opens with a dead body, and follows a twisty tale of madness, misconception  and a WASPy (were there WASPS in Victorian France?) ability to not acknowledge unpleasantness. I had an inkling of where the story was headed and got there just ahead of our heroine, but I won't hold that against Alexander. I'm well read in these Novels of Suspense. 

There are two things I particularly like about the series:

1) her use of real people lend credence to the possibility of these stories actually happening. Monet makes an appearance in this one, for example. She also has a firm grasp on the dress and social niceties that existed at the time. Every now and again, you can almost hear the crinolines rustling through the paragraphs.

2) her subtlety in the romantic scene department. I enjoy a good romp, but after watching people make out at the lunch table in high school (I wish I were kidding) and then a glut of Sex and the City, I have to admit that witnessing serious snogging - even if it's just being described to me - is a huge turnoff. There is obvious romance and intimacy and a healthy relationship happening between Lady Emily and her Husband, but it is alluded to and even then it is mostly for the purposes of illustrating other more pressing plot points. It's well-done, at any rate.

So if historical romantic suspenseful murder mysteries are your thing - pick these up. But maybe start at the beginning so you don't find yourself in my quandary. 

Oh, but maybe I won't go back just yet - there's a new one out at the end of Oct...or maybe I should read the first two *very* quickly so I can have all the backstory I need...decisions, decisions...


Heat by Bill Buford

So I tagged this "reader recommendation" even though not a soul actually told me to read it. I found it listed on my Sister-In-Law's Amazon wish list and thought to myself "hey - that goes perfectly with my food memoir streak! AND it's Italian food, which I haven't read, yet. Excellent!" So then I checked it out from the library, thinking if it is good then I'll pluck it off her list and send it to her for Christmas.

Well, it is that good. (It's no longer on her list, though, and not due to me!)

In fact, I have only two complaints about this book: firstly, there are no recipes. NO RECIPES, BILL! Way to hold out. There are descriptions of techniques, and a little insight into why restaurant food never tastes as good as it does in your home kitchen (batch size and measurement techniques, for starters) and that's all well and good...but throw us a bone, man! On the other hand, I must now go to Italy, find a grandmother, and convince her to teach me how to make pasta. So it's not all for nothing.

The second one - he referenced so many texts, and listed some of them in the acknowledgements, but I'm going to have to give this a re-read to truly retain all of the information. Which might have been his plan, because re-reading is really the best excuse ever for buying a book. So now I'll buy one for myself, and that means I'm more likely to buy it as gifts...I'm on to you, Buford.

So basically - he starts off as a journalist who decides he wants to learn how to cook - a lost art, in his opinion (mine, too.) He calls up his good friend Mario Batali (how has HE been off my radar?) and becomes a slave in the Babbo kitchen.  Amongst these adventures, he gives us Batali's backstory, and then follows his footsteps to Italy. In two distinct small towns he learns the lost art of pasta making (no machine!) from a Grandmother and butchery from The Maestro. No kidding, that's what he calls his mentor. Divine.

So if you're into food, Italian food, culture, food history, or just a good read - this Buford's for you. If you're a vegetarian (&etc) be warned: beef cheeks are just the tip of the iceberg. He does reflect a little on eating animals, mentioning that Vegetarians are the most aware that the bacon on your plate was once a pig in someone's pen, and he speaks of all of them with the utmost respect. So it's not gross...but I'm a carnivore.

I could go on and on filling your head with spoilers but I won't do that to you. You should read it. Because it is very good.


Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

This one was so good that I read it and then I bought the audiobook and I listened to it.

Full disclosure - this was the summer of listening to Sarah Vowell in our car. Not a bad way to spend errand-running days. She is my kind of nerdy.

Anyway - in this one, she tackles the Americanization of Hawaii- all the way from the part where they wanted it up until the part where they didn't. She interviews everyone you can think of and reads things you didn't know existed until she starts talking about them.

I got a sense of the truly complicated situation Hawaii was in -before the missionaries arrived there was no written language - so from the West (East? Isn't New England East of Hawaii?) they got a written language and enjoy a very high literacy rate. They also got lots of VD, marginalization, and ultimately...they got to lose their sovereignty.

It really just fueled my desire to visit Hawaii.

I'm gonna recommend listening to this one, unless you're familiar with the Hawaiian language - I got hung up on the names and some of the anecdotes - the cast is brilliant and hearing it in Vowell's own voice keeps the pace going - it was funnier as I listened to it.

And then get everything else she's ever written and listen to that, too. Trust me.


Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

I picked this one up at the recommendation* of Molly Wizenberg at Orangette. I've been doing my own "gotta write" dance lately and needed to have just a little push in the direction of "so what if it sucks, get it down!"

Anne Lamott delivered.

The book is about writing (it's basically the seminar she gives) but it could be applied to anyone with a creative yen they're scared to embrace. She starts off by saying that you should show up, every day, at the same time, and write a really shitty first draft. She goes all the way through the process (including the small-pox infected blanket that is the reality of trying to be a writer) and up to how to avoid libel.

In the middle she tells anecdotes about her own life, and how they've fueled her writing. She tells you to be brave, to throw open the doors of your life and let the moths fly out and then write down the smells and the sounds and the grit that's left behind.

It is inspiring. It makes me wonder why I'm sitting here writing all of this. You should just read it, like I did. And then you should (to borrow Molly W's analogy) step into the cave and write. (or paint. or sew. or whatever.)

From time to time (sorry, one more thing) she would remark that her students asked questions based in fear, and  kept flashing to the scene with Robin Williams in Dead Again where Kenneth Branagh is "interrogating" him and Robin Williams offer's him a cigarette. Branagh says "no thanks, I'm trying to quit" and Robin Williams fires back with "Don't tell me you're trying to quit. People who're trying to quit are basically poulets** who cannot commit. Find out which one you are. Be that. That's it. If you're a non-smoker, you'll know."

Find out which one you are. Be that. Go. Do.

*In that post, she links to a TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert that is worth your time.
**Not the word he uses. The word I use is French for "Chickens" - the word he uses starts with a "p" and can mean the same thing. It can also mean cat.


The Help: The Movie

So I read The Help.

I loved it.

I saw the movie yesterday morning and I loved it, as well. It kept close enough to the story for me to leave the theater feeling satisfied. A couple of people have mentioned changes that bothered them - some outright and some omissions, but I feel that they were changed/omitted in the interest of the concise nature of film.

If you're inclined, go see it. You don't necessarily have to read the book first, but I recommend it.

Take a hanky. Or two.


Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

I was turned onto this one by The Avid Reader, and I have to say that I agree with her account - it's fun and worth reading if you're into music and/or the 80s, but I'm probably not going to add it to my bookshelf.

That being said, Sheffield is engaging, using phrases like "bogarting your fair share of feminine attention." He also, in a way that could be annoying but falls mercifully into amusing, uses phrasing from the songs he enjoys - not outright quoting, but twisting it a little. The best part of this book is a) (Obviously) the music and b) his healthy respect for sisters. As a sister, I appreciate this. Even though he's the oldest child, his sisters wear the pants and he was happy under their tutelage.

The whole time I was reading I kept thinking "so this is a real life Rob-From-High Fidelity" and then when he had a chapter of the 30 best cassingles ever, I felt vindicated. He IS a real life Rob-From-High Fidelity!

Now that I have finished it I will likely stop spinning up the Hits of the 80s, but I want to watch all of my music-lover movies and re-read some of my music-lover books. Which is really something a good book should do - not trap you in its loop, but say "hey, here's some greatness....let it lead you to other greatness."

Of course, there's always an exception to this rule. One of his favorite songs, great in a love-to-hate-it way: (please note the fishnet bodysuit with red chastity belt combo.)

Your life is more complete now.


The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

I picked this up on the advice of Stories and Sweeties: she gave it 4 and a half out of 5 cupcakes.

I'd agree with that. It's your basic "teen queen gets hit by a bus and starts haunting the only dude at school who can hear her and antics ensue" tale. I ate it up. I expected it to be vapid and the writing to suck, but neither of those were true and I happily passed it along to some teenage girls I know - they'll relate to the fact that what you see from the outside is never the full story of someone's life. A lesson even adults could use reminding of now and then.

It's ultimately going to be a trilogy and the second is out already. Part of me wishes I'd waited until book 3 is out so I can read them all in succession, but this way will work, too.



The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

This book is fantastic. I skimmed the review here - sorry! I skimmed it, I know! But I don't like too many spoilers and really all I needed to see was that it's VERY GOOD and I was good to go. Also, there's food in it, so you know I was sold.

Let me tell you what you find out in the front cover/first couple of pages:

1) Ginny (the narrator) is one of two adult daughters who has just been orphaned.
2) She lives in her parents house - she is socially awkward and overly literal and needs to be taken care of...sort of. She's also an amazing cook who manages herself by imagining the way onions caramelize.
3) It made me want to caramelize onions.
4) Her sister is controlling.
5) During the funeral, an unexpected guest arrives...followed by more guests throughout the book. That's all I'm saying, but notice that I tagged this "supernatural" and "speculative" and go from there.

What you won't discover until you read it for yourself is the lyrical prose, the complete openness and honesty of the narrator, the desire to make sure that everything turns out alright, the compelling descriptions (and recipes!), and the fully-formed cast of characters that make up Ginny's life.

I couldn't put it down. I told Steve all about it. I want to know what happens next.

You should read it. Seriously. Go right now, it's at the library...or your local bookshop. Read it.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I resisted reading this one. I have a thing - if a bunch of people say "oh it's so great!" and they likely heard about it on Oprah...I just can't. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, so...sue me.

Anyway. Another blog I follow reviewed the audio and let me in on the tidbit that pushed me into the "listen to this" turf: Octavia Spencer, who voices Minny, will be playing her in the movie. So to the library I went.

Now, I've got more than just that one bias: I HATE multiple first-person point of views. Hate them. If I get into a book and I start liking the character and then I turn the page and I'm suddenly in the head of another character...I close it. Listening to this, though, solved that. I was hearing voices...and the actresses did such a good job I could have sworn I was just listening to them tell their stories. I became addicted. (even now, I miss them a little.)

So this story - what's so great about this story? It is not the story of a revolution. It is not the story of great sweeping change. It's not even a good love story...really.

It's a story that could be true. It's a story you could hear from your grandparents, if they lived in the South in the 60s (mine did.)

Stockett's breadth of imagination is impressive - not only for events but for reactions and emotions. Each character, even those who are merely satellite characters - are fully formed and believable. You could live next door to them. We all know how much I'm a sucker for that kind of development.

She also has her finger on the pulse of Civil Rights in Mississippi in the 60s. Events are happening to change the rest of the country...but that's the rest of the country. In Mississippi, things are just fine, thank you very much.

But Skeeter - I identified the most with Skeeter. Awkward, with dreams of being a writer. She comes home from college and realizes that she may not like her lifelong friends. She has the most obvious rite of passage here, although Aibileene and Minny come out the other side of their little adventure stronger women as well.

It really is well worth reading. I loved every minute - I can't even tell how many times I paused in whatever I was doing while listening so I could just listen...and how many times I teared up. I'll even admit (spoiler) that when the Skeeter got the phone call in January, I jumped up and did a little happy dance for her.

From what I can tell, the movie stays true to the story...but I have plans to see it in August, so I'll let you know. CJ Cregg is in it, though, so it's bound to be amazing.


The Butcher and the Vegetarian by Tara Austen Weaver

First - despite the title and the cover (neither of which Weaver seems to have approved of) it is not a romance. Unless you count a romance with food as "romance"...but even still, there's no love story. So get that out of your head before you read it.

Second - there are no recipes. I'm sure (as a friend mentioned) that there were copyright issues, but still. Still. Waxing poetic about chimichurri and then leaving me to find a recipe is just mean.

Third- this is a very good read, those first two point notwithstanding. The premise is that Weaver has spent her entire life a) as a vegetarian who eats meat on occasion and b) being plagued by mysterious health issues. She visits several doctors of several varieties, and follows everyone's orders. Beginning with: make chicken broth from scratch.

What follows is a moral crisis coupled with an exploration of food that few people are privy to. Her status as Writer allows for interviews and tours that most people only dream about. The bonus is that if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or the Seattle area, you can reap the rewards of her hard work.

The book made me hungry, sure. Not as hungry as some of the other books I've been reading lately, but there were many times I would need a snack after getting a few pages in. It also made me rethink how we eat...much like Plenty and Fast Food Nation did. In a good way.

I won't tell you how it ends...but I will tell you it's a very interesting journey. So, take points 1 and 2 into account, and then pick it up.

Happy Reading!


The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Farria, trans. by Elisa Amado

So this isn't usually a genre I cover, but this book is stunning. I had to.

It's a picture book unlike any I've come across, and here's why:

At first, it's just a black book with fairly abstract descriptions of color...

But then the glare hits, or you run your fingers across the page and there the words are: in braille.

And the image descriptions, in glossy relief on the paper - even I was moved by them. 

The last page is the braille alphabet. 

That literature like this exists for young readers makes me smile. 

I could go on and on about how great it is, but really - you should just experience it for yourself. 

Even Baz is rapt when we read this one.


Lillian Jackson Braun...RIP

Discovered here.

She was 97, which is a good long life. And she was beloved. My mom, sister, and I read her novels - they were my first "adult" mysteries.

In honor of her I will pick up one that I haven't read: The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers is now requested from my library. I will read it and wish (again) that I lived in a barn and that my cats were much more interesting than they are.

I have a head cold, so a glass of wine is out of the question, but I will have a cup of tea and toast her memory and her influence. We never met, and I haven't picked up a Cat Who...in years, but I would be lying if I said that she had no influence over me and my writing.



The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris

I will not lie - one of the best parts of reading this was having it narrated by Ewan McGregor in my head.

To further the truth-telling: had this not been written by Robert Harris, I would have skipped the book and gone straight to the movie, which I would only have seen (via Netflix) based on the cast. Does anyone else have a girl crush on Olivia Williams?

Here's why I would have skipped it: it's a work of political fiction. It's full of intrigue and, due to a classic Fish-Out-Of-Water device, a lot of explanation of The Way Things Work. Which is all fine and dandy if you - like the Ghost - have lived in a politics-free-bubble your entire life. I haven't. My father was in the Navy and I have seen The West Wing enough times that I can quote lines. So at times I found it tiresome.

Not tiresome at all: the basic plot. The Ghost (who is never named) steps in to take over for a previous Ghost Writer who has died in a mysterious and ominous fashion. The book is written almost as a confessional to the reader, peppered with "had I known at the time" or "little did I know..." which is nice for the purpose of foreshadowing and does help build the momentum for apex of the plot and it's ultimate resolution.

It was good. It was not very good. I am not going to tell everyone I know to read it. But it was solidly good and I didn't throw it down in exasperation even once. (If only you knew how often I do that...it explains the length of time between posts.) If you like political thrillers, pick this up. If you do not, move along to something more your cup of tea.

I can't let this go - it's not quite a spoiler, but it's more than I generally like to share: in the final chapter, the Ghost breaks the 4th wall. It's abrupt and direct and off-putting. I'm much more a fan of letting it go to the reader's imaginations...but this time Harris felt the need to tell me how to feel about it.

Oh well, I will continue to read him because overall he is a very good writer.

and here is the trailer, which I will be watching just as soon as netflix sends it to me:


The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

The Red Garden takes place over 200(ish) years in the town of Blackwell, Massachusetts. You always hear people say "in this movie/book/show/whatever, New York City is actually a CHARACTER" and you think "whatever. It's a setting. Move on." But in this case, Blackwell comes closer to being an actual character than I have ever witnessed of NY. Not to belittle NY, but Hoffman has crafted a story that makes those other attempts look amateurish. 

In fact, the main thread of the plot is the evolution of this town - from it's founding by a woman who sets a high bar for resolve and resourcefulness to today, when descendents of the founders find themselves again and again in the soil of the garden whose soil is blood red and where only red plants will bloom. In between there is mystery and gossip, urgency, love, loss, and peace.

Hoffman is a master storyteller who never fails to disappoint. I admit I was skeptical about the timeline and the lack of a conventional "plot" but I was pleasantly surprised. I'm glad that my reaction at the library was "cool! Hoffman's new book!" and I added it to my stack. It is definitely good reads.

ps - it has nothing to do with this show.


A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

I have decided that food writers might be my favorite people. It's one of the few area where you don't just stumble into it and you're "meh" about food but you write anyway...if that were the case you'd be out of a job faster than it takes your last review to become bird cage liner...or whatever the blog equivalent is.

And yes, Molly Wizenberg has a blog. That's how I found her*. She's Orangette. And she came to have the blog because she Loves food. Capital L, Loves. And it shines through. Every essay is a rosy memory of her life, scented with the aromas of whichever kitchen was nearby. Luckily - those land in our laps as recipes because Molly (you don't mind that I call you Molly, do you?) is emphatically Anti-Secret-Recipe. All the better for us, eh?

I've tagged this as cozy because it is. She has reduced her life to its essence: soul searching via her taste buds. There are moments of tenderness, sadness (her father's illness and passing are related in a frank way that tugged at my heart,) and celebration, and giddiness.  There are no great revelations (except for french toast in oil - GENIUS) and there's no great moral to smack you in the face and although you'll spend a lot of time hungry while you read this book, you won't have gained five pounds by the end of it. Or maybe you will have - it all comes down to quantity, doesn't it?

I ordered this book through my local bookshop before I'd even finished the copy borrowed from the library - and we've made one recipe (french toast in oil. Did I mention it's genius?) and I've earmarked another...chocolate cake on Easter? They procured me the paperback - and a pleasant surprise is that it has discussion in the back, complete with a little Q&A with Molly herself. I heartily endorse this as a book club book, as long as someone brings cake.

A note to the vegetarians in the crowd: Molly's husband, Brandon, is a vegetarian, so there are quite a few meatless recipes. But Molly isn't, so there is also meat to be had...mostly fish. Nothing to worry about if you're squeamish.

Dig in!

*Full disclosure: when the book first came out it took long enough to make it to my stack that I was in the throws of the Worst Morning Sickness Ever and not only had I hidden all of my food blogs, but I just couldn't read it. So back to the library it went and I forgot about it until Amster-Burton name checked Molly in Hungry Monkey. Thank you, Amster-Burton. All of the stomachs in our house are grateful.


Crawl Space by Sarah Graves

Graves just keeps getting better. It's like she hit an even dozen in the series and thought "eff it. Just to keep my faithful readers on their toes...NO ONE is sacred. No one." And then she chuckled an evil chuckle and uncapped her pen.

We're still in 3rd-person-omniscient-land in this installment and I have to admit that it's growing on me. I like that Graves has figured out how to keep the suspense building while still keeping us in all of the loops. In fact, the only person whose head we DON'T enter is the bona fide sociopath's...and we're all better off for that. But aside from that dude, Jake, and our usual characters, you can't be sure who's "good" and who's "bad" because they're all out there in the gray-area somewhere. Which is nice and truer to life.

This book focused more on the suspense and action than on the home repair, so if you've got a hankering for more tips you may be disappointed. If so, watch Bob Vila. And then pick up the next installment which is out later this month.


Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

You knew I was going to read this. You probably saw the article that triggered the firestorm that alerted me to the existence of the book. If not, it's here.

I'm still digesting, and mostly my thoughts are about how we're raising our son - Chua's experience is the exact opposite of the experiences that I've been seeking out. She is the opposite of unschooling, the opposite of being the boat that rides the waves, the opposite of finding a moment and seeing the beauty in the ordinary. She is driven, she is stubborn, she is (this is the universal part) parenting her children in the manner in which she was parented.

I do not agree with all of her approaches (the worst of which  - until the meltdown that humbles her* - are in the WSJ article) but I can't completely fault her. Her prose is engaging, her motivation is truly love for her daughters, and were I to sit next to her at a party I think I would enjoy her company.

She says, over and over, that there is tongue-in-cheek humor...but it's insider humor. Unless you are the child of an immigrant it might sail past you and leave a bad taste in your mouth. Statements that come across as judgmental would likely be hilarious to Westerners had they been written by Matt Groenig (or Trey Parker or Matt Stone) and delivered by Homer Simpson (or one of the four South Park kids.) Humor is cultural, and I suspect that is why this book has struck such a nerve.

Does she have some truly heinous parenting moments? Yes. But who doesn't? She also has moments of clarity and brilliance where everything seems to come together, and at the end...she learns and grows, which is really all anyone can do.

As Calvin's dad said: You do the best you can with the knowledge you have. (Yes, he said it first, Not Oprah. When I run across the strip, I'll scan it and prove it.)

The book has made me think...really think and really scrutinize my plans and how they will impact my child as he grows. Whether I agree with her or not, that is the best thing a book can do for you. As you read, you look around and think "is this really the best life I can lead? Are my intentions pure?" Few authors trigger those thoughts (I am lucky to have reviewed some of them here) and Chua is among them.

*the subtitle: "The is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. The was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising their kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting tastes of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old."

Here she is, in her own words, on PBS:


I keep picking up the latest in series that I love only to be met with the "Writing off" of characters I love. In this case: the Pym sisters. That's right - I spoiled this one right off the bat. But it happens in the first chapter and their impending departure is the catalyst for Lori's trip to New Zealand: their deathbed request of her is that she deliver a letter to their estranged nephew - son of their only brother who was cast out of the family when the twins were small children.

Lori, being married to an Estate lawyer, packs her bags and takes a very long plane ride. The story is set during the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which features minorly into the plot. Additionally, she has a native guide and meets many more interesting characters (a refreshing change from the familiar faces of Finch, although they have their appearances as well.) It turns out that Aubrey, Jr, (nephew) has passed away. As has his son, leaving Lori to track down an eighteen-year-old great-grandniece as she runs away from her troubles across the island.

I'll tell you that I read this with enthusiasm: will Lori catch up with Bree? Why is her native guide so eager to help her? When can I book my own trip to New Zealand?

All in all, it was a satisfying read...and no, you do not have to have read the previous installments to enjoy this one. But it certainly adds a layer of heart-string tugging when you've encountered the Pyms sisters 14 previous times and now they have passed away to the realm of Aunt Dimity herself.


A Face in the Window

This - the second to latest installment of the Home Repair is Homicide series - takes a different tack: 3rd person all the way through. And since Graves isn't one to shy from "killing" our favorite characters, the level of suspense is ratcheted up. This one falls squarely into Page Turner territory.

The great thing about a series is that you can invest in the characters - and Graves plays on that by sending Ellie and George on vacation and then having their daughter (in the care of Jake) abducted.

That's as far as I'm going with the plot because holy cow. I'm not sure how to talk about it without giving away too much. It's downright gripping.

If you're a fan of the series, you won't be disappointed.

And if you're a fan of the series you'll be happy to know that there is another...but will there be another? After A Face at the Window....it's really anybody's guess.

Unfamiliar Fishes Teaser

She was on the Daily Show.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Sarah Vowell:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Sarah Vowell Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Sarah Vowell Extended Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook



Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

I bought this for my husband last year with the knowledge that when he finished it, I would read it. I just finished it. Literally, I just read through the last section of "recommended reading, our favorite convenience foods, and acknowledgments." The book is filled with flags of further reading or items to investigate and I have already made one of the recipes (bibimbap.)

Amster-Burton is a food writer and father living in Seattle with his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Iris.  Here is something annoying: Iris at the time of writing was 4. Iris at the onset of fun food was about 20 months. Which is six months from where we are and I find myself impatient. But I digress.

This book is engaging. It is funny. It is inspirational and appetizing....that is, I would have a nice, full dinner and a little while later I would read a chapter or two in the bath and when I emerged I would be starving and inspired to really cook. Hence the bibimbap, which was delicious.

Amster starts with the precept that there is no baby food. There is only people food, presented in such a way that babies can eat it. And he went from there. He also invited Iris into the kitchen - one of the most intriguing slices of their life is the way Iris participates (or opts out because she's "busy lying on the couch.")  Through tales of farmers markets, fishmongers, preschool snack days, and pasta sauce, Amster invites you in to his kitchen - there is no doubt in my mind that given the chance the invitation would be real and the casual comraderie would not falter. Or I'm just a crazy fan who reads too much into things. Either way, I really want a sequel.

He has a blog, and this entry has video footage with Iris, so you can see just how cute she really is:


Happy Reading!

PS - they are NOT vegetarians, so if you take issue with things like "it starts with flank steak" or "We bought a live lobster" then be warned those parts are in there. But don't skip the book. There are muffins and udon, too!


Momma Zen By Karen Maezen Miller

I thoroughly enjoyed Miller's other book, so I made sure I was able to savor this one, in which she takes us along on her journey as a new mother, musing over lullabies and sleepless nights, food struggles, television guilt, schedules, and the sudden illness and passing of her own mother. I do not personally know Karen (although we are "facebook friends") but as I read her reflection on the loss of her mother, I mourned with her.

Miller is moving and inspirational without being the kind of person who gives Moving Inspirational Speeches. She quietly shows you how things work for her and provides space for you to recognize what is (and isn't) working for you. Here is a space to allow yourself to truly feel what you are feeling and then the gentle guidance needed to let all of that go.

A random pull quote:

"On a perfect day in your perfect little world (and it's always perfect) there is breakfast time, playtime, lunchtime, nap time, snack time, dinnertime, bath time, story time, and bedtime. There is time for everything when you are the timekeeper." (p68)

It is not just her own wisdom that she shares, every chapter opens with a quote from Sutras, Blessings, Buddhist Lessons, and the Wise Ones who came before. The book ends with a lesson on How to Meditate, and follows with an index "For the Hard Days", in which you can look up lessons for the help you most need right now.

Miller is a Zen Buddhist Priest, and while that informs her writings and her lessons, she neither shoves it down your throat nor urges you to throw off your previous labels and Join Her. She merely invites you in to a place where the people are just people, lives are just lived, and every moment exists in your breath. I consider myself lucky to have both of her books on my shelf.

(Bonus: she has a blog.)


She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (nonbiological lesbian) Motherhood by Amie Klempnauer Miller

I firmly believe that anyone who thinks they should have a say - or that there should be legislation defining - what makes a family needs to read this book. Because Miller is honest and moving and most definitely a mother. And I say this as a straight, monogamous mother.

I have to admit, though, that I grabbed it off the library end cap on a whim. I'm on a Mommy-Memoir kick (in case you haven't noticed) and so it appealed to me. I hesitated, though when I saw that Amie is a lesbian. Not because I was turned off by the concept, but because I wasn't sure if I could relate. But I did. I can. I think that any human who has tried, succeeded, considered, is considering,  and/or may one day bring another human into their life will relate.

In fact - my only issue with the whole thing was the few times when she said "because I am a lesbian, I am ________." And I thought "no, honey, because you are a woman/human/parent you are...."  Not that lesbians aren't, but they haven't cornered the market.

I was moved to tears so many times. I'll admit it. There might have been wine involved, but there were definitely tears. Tears when the pregnancy took. Tears when their daughter was born. Tears and tears and more tears. She overcame huge hurdles - and she shares them with such honesty and fearlessness that it's no wonder she is in her third decade with her wife.

There is no way to avoid the politics of the situation while reading. I fall firmly in favor of not needing the legislation that is constantly in trouble or about to be voted on. Why? Because the LGBT community is covered by the 14th amendment.

In a totally cute (and enlightening) offshoot: the author interviews her daughter. Read it here.


The Book of Old Houses by Sarah Graves

If you've read the previous few issues of the Home Repair is Homicide series, then you're familiar with the story of the Book which was found in the foundation of Jake's house. That is the titular book of this installment. The murder in question happens before this book opens, and we are graced with a second viewpoint periodically through the narrative - that of one of the men who was investigating the Book.

The one that may or may not be a hoax. The one that may or may not be written in blood. The one that may or may not be bound in human skin. The one with Jacobia's name in it.

Because of that, I've tagged this with "speculative" because, while some may be satisfied with the answers, some may not. Which you know I love.

There's plenty of humor heaped in - a fight with a bathtub, for instance. And there are lover's quarrels, outsiders poking their noses around, a very uppity old biddy whom Jake is desperately trying to impress.

And of course the usual cast of characters, all of whom bring their own brands of zaniness.

A thoroughly enjoyable installation, as they all are, which is why I keep reading. I think there are only three left and then I have to wait for them to be written and published. I love/hate that.


Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer

The title for this one says it all, really. With flashbacks to her childhood, and a present-time recounting that spans her first ten years of motherhood and yoga study, Dederer takes us through her own rite of passage. Can it be a rite of passage when it's a memoir written by an adult about her adult life? I'm going to say yes. I'm also going to call it a coming-of-age piece and a truly fun read.

The tagline on her website reads: "What if you turned your life upside down...and wound up with both feet on the ground?"

I identify with Dederer on several levels and I'm convinced that is what made this book so enjoyable for me.  But rather than go on and on about me, I thought I was going to do something even better: answer one of the "reading group" questions from the website. But all of those made me want to talk about me.

So I will just say this: read this book. If you like yoga. If you like memoirs. If you like funny, self-depricating stories where the heroine and her family nearly implode only to jump their proverbial shark and put themselves back on the right track. Read it if you like heart warming, cozy, inspiring tales of a person whose childhood was left-of-center but who grew up to be alright anyway. And certainly read it if you just aren't sure what to read next. Let it inspire you to be brave.

Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King

So this is a companion book to Folly - there is character and setting overlap, but aside from that you can read it without having first read Folly. (Warning, though: one of the characters that overlaps is Rae, the main character from Folly, so there are spoilers there.)

Keeping Watch follows Allen Carmichael, a haunted Vietnam vet whose sole mission now is to atone for his wartime sins and then retire comfortably with his girlfriend to a life of quiet relaxation. His career is on the fringes of the law - he helps children and wives (and the odd husband) escape their abusers. Keeping Watch centers on the final case of his career.

There are many, many flashbacks to Vietnam - it is fully half the book. They help round out the character and often give vital...if not actual plot points, then they plant the seeds for what unfolds in present-day narration. The parallel plots set up two climactic events - one which serves to undo Carmichael in his early 20s, and one which might undo him all over again now in his mid 50s. Peripheral characters serve as harbors for the plot and relief from the chaos of the war and abuse stories.

There is a third line of narration - that of the young man who is Carmichael's final case. Full of its own violence and emotional turmoil, it is a nice anchor for Carmichael's own story. Being inside Jamie's head helps keep everything in perspective.

King winds this story in a way that is so intricate and compelling you just can't put it down. It is thrilling, violent, agonizing, and heart warming. I almost walked away - war stories are not my cup of tea - but I gave King the benefit of the doubt and I am very glad that I did.

*Spoilerish note: when I say that it is violent, I mean it. Vietnam was a bloody, heartless war and King doesn't hold back. There is also a subtle (and at the same time, not-subtle-at-all) commentary on the atrocious way the returning soldiers were treated. This book is not for the faint of heart. I'll just come right out and say it: there is violence against children. It is hinted at, danced around, and alluded to and then outright described. It is heartbreaking because it is real. This story is not real, but it echoes hundreds that are. You have to be prepared and then you have to read to the end, where you will have hope in humanity again. I promise.
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